A whale by the reef

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Sun 20 Mar 2011 01:12
17:05.976N 61:53.564W Five Islands Bay, Antigua, Saturday night

We had an exciting day today, exploring the southwestern sector of Antigua.

It was hot, even when we got up so we all went in for swim before breakfast. I was wearing a t-shirt to swim in and I didn't even bother taking it off all day as it kept me cool as it dried. Andrea saw the spotted eagle ray again - I think there's something going on between them. Cind swam around in circles with a baby turtle and we all saw plenty of fish but, in the end, it was time to leave our lovely bay and continue along the coast.

Just to the west of where we were anchored, the off-lying coral reef starts. Between the reef and the shore, there's a navigable channel so we followed that before swinging off south and then east so that we were inside a giant cul-de-sac between two arms of the reef. Just to seaward of us, the swell was crashing against the outer reef but it was much calmer inside where we were anchored. By now, it was crazy hot so we all jumped straight in again. I snorkelled off to the outer reef but it wasn't very rewarding as the whole sea bed was littered with dead bits of stags-horn coral with hardly anything alive atall. There weren't even any sea-urchins.

I did find a couple of patches of live coral in the end but they were only the size of a table-top amidst the destruction. I'm not sure what happened to the reef - perhaps it's hurricane damage. I can't see what people can have done to it out in the open sea but perhaps there's some human agency. Either way, the place was pretty depressing. On the way back to Saxon Blue, I did find a single outcrop of coral with a swirl of fish around it. I dived down for a look and saw a bit of stainless steel sticking out of the sand underneath. I reached out to pick it up and it transformed into a ray and promptly swam off in a cloud of sand. The thing I took for stainless was its eye - it certainly made me jump.

Back onboard, we had our lunch without Alden as he was still off searching for more lobsters. He returned as wrinkled as a prune and without any dinner but he'd found some live bits of reef out on the seaward side so that was good news. He'd also found the largest female lobster that he'd ever seen, caring for her eggs in the shallows. I'd have liked to go back out with him to see her but Cind and Christine were feeling the effects of the heat and the residual swell so I thought it better to get underway and find somewhere to spend the afternoon and night.

We got the anchor up and headed out of the cul-de-sac, intending to head back into the shore and continue along the passage between the reef and the island but, just as I was about to turn to starboard, Andrea spotted something in the water off to port and I could see that it was a whale diving. That's enough for me so we altered course for the seaward side of the reef and soon caught up with a fair sized humpback.

He was swimming in about 12 meters of water along the outside edge of the reef. As it was so shallow, he was only coming up for a single breath each time and diving without putting his flukes up. The good thing was that he was up often so we could follow him along easily. Alden was stood at the bow waving back to me and pointing out where the whale was. I knew where he was alright but didn't want to disturb him too much by getting too close. I think Alden has the instincts of a harpooneer as he would be quite happy to get right alongside. Cind was up at the bow with him all the time and Christine looking through the binoculars back in the cockpit with Andrea and I. We must have seen the whale surface a dozen times or more before we left him alone to continue with our trip.

We were now much further along the coast than I'd intended and the places that I'd thought we might stop hadn't looked all that special so we carried on around the furthest end of the reef before heading back towards the island again. In the slightly northerly swell, I thought that Five Islands Bay looked like a good source of shelter and I could see that there weren't many boats in it either so that was a good sign. In the end, we came in and did a quick survey off a beach before dropping our anchor in about 4 meters. Unusually, the hook just slipped through the sloppy mud leaving a trail of brown water so we picked it up and tried again nearby with much better results.

We all had a drink and a rest and then Andrea, Cind and I set off in the tender to see if we could make it up to a ruined sugar mill on the southern side of the bay. There wasn't anywhere to get ashore there, though, so we came back to Saxon Blue, picked up Christine and headed for the sandy beach nearby. We got ashore OK and were busy anchoring the tender when we realised that we were getting eaten by hundreds of midges. Quick. Back to the boats. It was like a mini Dunkirk as we got back into the Little Ship and headed off again to avoid the blood-suckers. We had a bit of an explore in the tender and found that most of the bay is only about a foot deep.

Back onboard Saxon Blue again, Andrea knocked up a chilli while we all got showers and watched another amazing sunset. We're under the flightpath to the main airport so we've seen a few big jets arriving with their cargoes of people. I'm knackered now, mostly with it being so hot, I think. Now that it's cooled down, all I can think about is getting into bed.


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